Senate majority leader Bill Frist appeared through a telecast as a speaker at “Justice Sunday,” at the invitation of the event’s main sponsor, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. “Justice Sunday” was promoted as a rally to portray Democrats as being “against people of faith.” Many of the speakers compared the plight of conservative Christians to the civil rights movement. But in sharing the stage with Perkins, who introduced him to the rally, Frist was associating himself with someone who has longstanding ties to racist organizations.
Four years ago, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), America’s premier white supremacist organization, the successor to the White Citizens Councils, which battled integration in the South. In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke.
As the emcee of Justice Sunday, Tony Perkins positioned himself beside a black preacher and a Catholic “civil rights” activist as he rattled off the phone numbers of senators wavering on President Bush’s judicial nominees. The evening’s speakers studiously couched their appeals on behalf of Bush’s stalled judges in the vocabulary of victimhood, accusing Democratic senators of “filibustering people of faith.”
James Dobson, who founded the Family Research Council as the Washington lobbying arm of his Focus on the Family, invoked the Christian right’s persecution complex. On an evening when Jews were celebrating the second night of Passover, Dobson claimed, “The biggest Holocaust in world history came out of the Supreme Court” with the Roe v. Wade decision. On his syndicated radio show nearly two weeks earlier, on April 11, Dobson compared the “black robed men” on the Supreme Court to “the men in white robes, the Ku Klux Klan.” By his logic, the burden of oppression had passed from religious and racial minorities to unborn children and pure-hearted heterosexuals engaged in “traditional marriage.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, from Hope Christian Church in College Park, Maryland, was Justice Sunday’s only black speaker. Jackson had recently unveiled his “Black Contract With America,” a document that highlights wedge issues like gay marriage that would presumably pry black churchgoers away from the Democratic Party. But so far he has been disappointed. “Black churches are too concerned with justice,” Jackson lamented in his speech. Nonetheless, his association with the right wing has done wonders for his personal profile. Just after Bush’s second inauguration, he was among a contingent of black clergy members invited to the White House for a private meeting.
Justice Sunday also featured a token Catholic, William Donohue, who heads the nation’s largest “Catholic civil rights organization,” the Catholic League. In the battle to confirm far-right judicial nominees like William Pryor, who happens to be Catholic, Donohue has become a key asset for the Christian right’s evangelical faction. He has argued that Democratic senators opposing Pryor and others are motivated by anti-Catholicism. “There isn’t de jure discrimination against Catholics in the Senate,” Donohue claimed on Sunday. “There is de facto discrimination. They’ve set the bar so high with the abortion issue, we can’t get any real Catholics over it.”